What's the best blog post/video/tweet/whatever to explain how the Stack Exchange system works to regular people? I am trying to gauge interest for a new Stack Exchange site, but I want to explain it to people as best (and preferably) as visually as I can. Any YouTube clips breaking it down? Commoncraft anyone?

Note: I am fully aware of this question, but mine is about Stack Exchange, not Stack Overflow.

Most people think I'm describing traditional forum software, which they know sucks. Is there some way to describe the magic of how the design of the Stack Exchange system actually produces useful results very quickly? I can describe generally that it is a Q&A site that users vote on the answers, but Stack Overflow feels like so much more. Am I perhaps thinking too big about this?


4 Answers 4


Stack Exchange is to forums as Wikipedia is to Britannica.

It's an open, self-regulating, egalitarian q&a freedom machine without the forum smell.

  • Honestly, though this answer was the shortest one, I find it to capture at least some of the magic of the site. People understand how big a deal Wikipedia was, so the comparison is apt.
    – daveslab
    Commented Jun 25, 2010 at 1:52
  • 3
    The problem with this is that Wikipedia and Britannica are both encyclopedias, but Stack Exchange and traditional web forums are not both the same kind of thing. Stack Exchange sites are primarily community-edited question and answer sites; web forums are primarily community-contributed (but not community-edited) discussion media. Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 6:39

It would be amazing if we had something cool to explain


Sort of like:

http://www.google.com/googlebooks/chrome/ (Scott McCloud (!) comic illustration)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc (RSA Animate, whiteboard animation)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRqUE6IHTEA (Commoncraft, paper-based animation)


  • 3
    Precisely. Any plans, Jeff?
    – daveslab
    Commented Jun 22, 2010 at 23:33
  • I vote you try and Commoncraft to build you something.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Jun 23, 2010 at 7:15

Maybe it's just me, but it doesn't seem like a particularly complicated system. I'd explain it as a Q&A site where people vote on the answers to make the best ones stand out - of course there's a lot more to it than that, but that explanation gets the main point of the system across. Hopefully it'd be enough to convince some people to come check out one of the existing sites, and at that point I think your job (of explaining) is done ;-)

Of course, I'm not saying that an instructional video about the StackExchange system wouldn't be useful, if someone wanted to make one.

  • But that doesn't explain te awesomenessz
    – Alex Angas
    Commented Jun 23, 2010 at 4:12

I would explain it as follows:

A group of people who ask questions that get voted on and answered by the same people who ask questions which get voted on by the same people asking questions and answering them while posting comments that can also get voted on.

Simple, no?

  • 1
    For a second there I thought you were going into recursion ;-)
    – David Z
    Commented Jun 22, 2010 at 15:18
  • Too long of an explanation really for most people
    – Earlz
    Commented Jun 22, 2010 at 23:48
  • @Earlz: Are you kidding? Too long an explanation for anyone! Commented Jun 23, 2010 at 1:48

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